I’m very aware that baking frightens some people. I know lots of home cooks who are really talented, yet they’re terrified of making pastry. They can easily pick up a new recipe for a whole baked fish or a slow-roasted shoulder of lamb and make it with great success. But they’d never attempt a double-crusted apple pie or a homemade quiche, because they just don’t have the confidence to tackle this sort of recipe.
Baking is not instinctive to them – it feels to them like a complicated puzzle that they can’t decode. And that’s usually because they’ve never had anyone teach them: actually stand beside them and show them the fundamentals. What these home cooks need is someone who is good with puzzles to take them through the process and help them put the pieces together! This was a role once naturally fulfilled by mothers and grandmothers, family members and friends. Sadly, in recent times a lot of this know-how has been lost, and there are fewer people spending time in the kitchen passing on their knowledge and teaching loved ones to bake.
There are many good reasons to learn to bake, not least that exquisite pleasure of sneaking a taste of your own homemade cake or biscuits, still warm from the oven. The physical steps of combining simple, everyday ingredients, often with your bare hands, to produce nourishing food for those you love is incredibly satisfying. The control you have over what ingredients you use is empowering. And the emotional by-products of the whole experience are something else completely: from the endless planning and dreaming about what to bake, to the almost meditative practice of the techniques, and, finally, the sharing of the results. I call this powerful emotional aspect the ‘essence’ of baking. It’s a very individual experience that’s hard to describe, but it represents the way the act of baking and sharing can make people feel nurtured, comforted, loved and part of something special. It brings people together, inspires compliments and gratitude, and simply makes people feel good.
There’s more to learning how to bake than just following a recipe. The value of having someone show you first-hand how pastry should feel, what a cake batter should look like or how to use your hands when kneading a dough is inestimable. Then, as your knowledge bank grows, as you gather skills through baking experiences of all kinds, so your confidence and efficiency will grow. Soon, before you know it, you’ll be tackling more difficult tasks, more complex recipes, and becoming ever more skilled, efficient and confident. And soon you’ll start passing on this knowledge to others.
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This is an edited extract from from BakeClass by Anneka Manning (Murdoch Books, $45 hbk).
Anneka's mission is to connect home cooks with the magic of baking, and through this, with those they love. For hands-on baking classes and baking tips, visit her at BakeClub. Don't miss what's coming out of her oven via Facebook,Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.